When I write or teach, I tend to talk a bunch of theology and doctrine while forgetting to consider many practical matters. And we all know that theological talk (or jabber) without practically walking out the truth is not true biblical theology. Or we should know that.
So I’m aware of my tendencies. I can try and wax eloquent about certain things (I said try), but, in the end, I really want it to be a practical reality that affects our lives.
In the midst of this series on the Ephesians 4 ministry gifts, some might ask, ‘What’s the point? Why does it all matter?’
And the question is more directed at me, not the Scriptures.
Really, why does it matter? Is it really that important whether or not we believe apostles and prophets still exist today. Not to mention, if we want to lean towards such a belief, we’ve got a lot of Christianity standing against such a belief.
Well, let me start off by saying I do not believe this is an essential doctrine of the faith. I do not see this up there with things such as the divinity-humanity (yes, both) of Christ, monotheism and the Tri-unity of God at the same time, salvation by grace through faith, as well as a couple of others. This does not belong with those.
But, I do believe this whole thing comes down to a very important part of the praxis of our faith, what it means to live out our faith in a practical way in the earth. Even more, it connects in greatly with the practice of our ecclesiology (understanding of church).
It’s not just about whether one believes apostles and prophets still exist today. It comes down to what I have emphasised from the beginning: Jesus was the great apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd and teacher, and his desire is that his body, his representation on the earth, continue on in all the ministries of the Christ. We are to be all of Christ in all of the earth.
The broken record is still turning, I know. But I cannot emphasise these things enough. And thankfully Jesus has sent the Spirit, the apostolic-prophetic-evangelistic-shepherding-teaching Spirit to indwell and empower God’s people to be all of Christ in all of the earth. That’s just how it is whether we like it or not.
I’m really not to bothered about titles. Well, matter of fact, I’m not sure we can find precedence that these five ministry gifts are to be considered as just that, titles. They are ministries, meaning they are serving gifts. That is of utmost importance. They are given to the help equip and prepare the body of Christ for works of service themselves. And as they equip and prepare us, we will move towards unity and maturity, which is our goal. If you don’t believe me, re-read Ephesians 4:11-16. The mandate is quite clear!
I know plenty of people that get on with shepherding and teaching and evangelising, but have never been recognised in these ministries. I think Jesus is quite happy about that. He remembers what it was like to not be recognised by the established leadership of his day. But he was very faithful in being and doing what he had been sent to do by the Father.
And so I suppose there are many apostles and prophets getting on with being apostolic and prophetic without any recognition. Matter of fact, I am pretty certain of it. And Jesus continues to smile upon that as well.
What he frowns upon are those self-proclaimed, self-titled men and women who don’t have any idea of what it truly means to lead (think first and foremost serve), no matter what ministry-gifting capacity they see themselves in. I think that might be worse than having a little bad doctrine.
So, this really does matter. We really want to be all that Christ has called us to be. And so, if one is not interested in recognising present-day apostolic and prophetic ministries, I’m really not going to get too bent out of shape (as if one cares about my opinion). But, in the end, we must get on with being an apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, shepherding and teaching community. That is our call as the body of Christ, since he, himself, walked in those five ministries.
I suppose I do see a little difficulty in the body truly being apostolic and prophetic if we don’t have apostles and prophets equipping us to be such. They are gifted people given to help us. We should be willing to receive such gifts of grace.
But I also know the apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, shepherding and teaching Spirit indwells the body of Christ. So, of course, he will be our best teacher. Nevertheless, I do believe he wants to use those gifted in these five ministries.
So, if we want to split hairs in the end, if we want to categorise certain ministries as ceasing after a certain time period, after the canon was completed and passed along to us, I’m not going to fight with someone over this. Matter of fact, I have a good respect for those who have noble hearts to protect the apostolic faith handed down to us, which the Scripture so faithfully attests to. I share common ground here.
But, I will be passionate to argue that this truly matters in that we need to get on with being Christ in the earth. You, I, the entire body of Christ in every nation, culture and church background must get on with being all of Christ in all of the earth.
And, because it matters, it means we better get on with functioning as an apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, shepherding and teaching community. If we don’t do so, we will fall short. If we don’t do so, we will miss the mark that Paul points to in Ephesians 4:11-16.
Let us be challenged with why this really does matter.